Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.
‘True kindred of Jesus’
Reading Mark’s account of the true kindred of Jesus – and the implied critique of those constrained by cultural and religious mores – I think of another bold religious leader – one who attracted crowds and aroused suspicion of madness. In London, 274 years ago, John Wesley wrote of his “heart strangely warmed”.
“I felt I did trust in Christ alone for salvation,” Wesley wrote, “and an assurance was given me that Christ had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”
It’s a well-
John Wesley was a priest in the Church of England during the period following the agricultural revolution (1730s–40s). Large numbers of farm workers, displaced serfs, converged on the city, desperate for work. Most could not read or write, many drank heavily, succumbed to sickness or criminal activity.
Wesley involved himself, gave himself, to what he saw to be a movement of the Spirit in his day – a “rising of the poor” – peasants, working people, claiming for themselves a place within the religion of the time, which they had been otherwise denied, and creating for themselves societies and associations to support and extend their new-
In a sermon on “National Sins & Miseries”, he said: “That the people suffer, none can deny … thousands of people in the west of England, throughout Cornwall in particular, in the north, and even in the midland counties, are totally unemployed … I have seen not a few of these wretched creatures … standing in the streets, with pale looks, hollow eyes and meagre limbs; or creeping up and down like walking shadows. I have known families, who a few years ago lived in an easy genteel manner, reduced to just as much raiment as they had on, and as much food as they could gather in the field. To this one or other of them repaired once a day, to pick up the turnips which the cattle had left; which they boiled, if they could get a few sticks, or, otherwise, ate them raw.”
Wesley didn’t just preach about poverty. He didn’t just provide handouts. He listened and learned from those “in misery”; from their courage he learned joy – rooted in friendship with Christ. He made them, whom others called “a few raw, young, unlettered men [and women]”, preachers and leaders of small support groups, house churches and proto-
Wesley’s sole criterion was whether a potential preacher had a “spiritual power” and a “conviction to declare”. He trusted their call and believed God was at work in and among them.
Wesley received a great degree of acceptance and affection from the common people. He became, ultimately, more uncomfortable with the upper class, Oxford or London society, than with his “Kingswood colliers”. His highest praise was to say that someone was like one of his Kingswood colliers. “O, that our London brethren would come to school at Kingswood,” he wrote.
His style of living reflected his giving himself, his incarnation into the world of working people. He kept a very simple “cell” in London, Bristol and Newcastle. When elsewhere, he stayed with his preachers. He lived on 28 pounds a year and gave away the rest [from what I can work out this means he gave away about a third of his stipend]. He urged and practised a diligent frugality. He saw to it that all the giving of his congregations went to those in need. [Only in later Methodism was most of it deflected into buildings and ministerial salaries, with only a token “Poor Fund” left at an infrequent sacrament.]
So fundamental was his living among the poor that several of his successors as President, after his death, were from the artisan or even less-
In a leaflet addressed to his fellow disapproving clergy, Wesley said: “The rich, the honourable, the great, we are thoroughly willing to leave to you. Only let us alone with the poor, the vulgar, the base, the outcasts of men [sic].” And to George II (pertinent in light of our reading from 1 Samuel, and, indeed, on this Diamond Jubilee holiday weekend), he declared: “We are inconsiderable people, a people scattered afield and trodden underfoot. Silver and gold have we none.”
Wesley’s witness is pertinent today, in light of our Gospel, in that, like the witness of Jesus, it speaks of a God who gives Godself away, a self-
In Roman Palestine, a criminal was forced to carry a cross through the city. A public display of guilt that attracted ridicule and scorn, and horror. “Take up your cross and follow me,” says Jesus, according to a later chapter of Mark. In other words: “Be willing to publicly display your faith and endure the consequences of such a display”.
Because God’s promise to send a Messiah, a servant-
What have you found to be a helpful means of overcoming harsh criticism or ridicule?